WASHINGTON-After nearly a year's wait, the Renaissance Commission has handed over its recommendations for CUNA's legislative and regulatory pursuits to the board of directors. The commission's suggestions include both short and long-term goals to be voted on by the board shortly after press time. "I feel very good about it and proud of it," CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica, also an ex-officio commissioner, said. He called the Renaissance Commission report a "living document" for credit unions' changing needs and environment. The first and foremost recommendation of the Renaissance Commission is to maintain credit unions' tax-exempt status. "The purpose of credit unions is to promote the economic well-being of all people through a Credit Union System which is cooperative, member-owned, not-for-profit, and therefore tax-exempt; to provide a secure financial alternative for all consumers; and to provide financier and related product and services to members," the CUNA Renaissance Commission Vision Statement read. By virtue of the nature of credit unions, the commission said, they should not be taxed and should maintain a separate share insurance and regulatory system. Also, cooperative financial institutions return any earnings back to its members as dividends and particularly serve those of modest means. The commission also determined, from the testimony provided in three formal hearings, 21 state hearings, 13 focus groups with 99 attendees, and other communications, that credit unions want and should decide what products to provide its members. Credit unions should be able to accept shares and deposits of any type defined by the credit union, the commission stated. Additionally, the credit union should determine for itself the types of loans appropriate for its members. Repealing the member business loan cap, established in the Credit Union Membership Access Act (H.R. 1151), was a popular topic of the formal hearings with credit union officials coming down on both sides of the issue. Some opponents felt too many trade-offs could be involved to pursue commercial loans in the legislative arena. Commission Chairman Frank Pollack, president and CEO of Pentagon Federal Credit Union in Alexandria, Va., said that it was not really a challenge for the commission to decide which side of the issue to support because the commission's job was to develop long-term, broad and "truly visionary" goals for the trade association. "The purpose of the commission was not to set goals for today or tomorrow but for the long-term," he said. Pollack added the he believes many of the Renaissance Commission's objectives will still be evolving into actions over the next decade. According to the commission, credit unions also should be able to place funds in a wide array of investments and to build alternative forms of capital. The Renaissance Commission boldly stated, "All consumers have the right to improve their financial well being through the services of not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Credit unions, through their board of directors must have the right to determine their own fields of membership to enhance safety, soundness, and service." Open fields of membership, many in the credit union community are concerned, will lead to the taxation of credit unions and prompt further attacks from the bankers. The issue was widely debated during the hearings. In Pollack's eyes, however, he said, "This industry is predicated on the principle that the member-owners are wise enough, smart enough, and caring enough to decide who should belong to the credit union." He added, with regard to the bankers' potential objections, that no organization should "condition their mission statement on what the opposition wants." Pollack said he feels more flexibility for credit unions in determining their fields of membership could be "a sustainable competitive advantage over time." Following the changing of the guards at NCUA, talks between the agency and the trade associations have increased markedly due to a general sense of openness and listening that current acting NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar has worked hard to promote. In this environment, CUNA's Renaissance Commission determined it safe but also necessary to say in its report, "A regulatory environment must exist that advances the interests of credit unions by empowering them to provide the range of products and services they determine are important to their memberships." Many in the credit union community have been alarmed by the number of credit unions converting from a federal to state charter, which is one reason the commission would ask for a more flexible regulatory environment. In direct correlation to this concern, the Renaissance commission has also suggested a viable dual chartering system should exist. "The NCUA and state supervisory authorities should act cooperatively," the commission suggested. "Actions taken by the NCUA Board on NCUSIF (National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund) matters should be separate from those taken on NCUA regulatory and supervisory matters," the report said. Additionally, federal credit unions should be provided a private insurance alternative, the commission determined from the various opinions gathered from around the credit union community. [email protected]

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